Earlier this week, the National Green Tribunal provided a landmark judgment for the city and its lakes, leaving Mantri Developers under orders to demolish structures that had violated the buffer zones around lakes, coupled with a penalty of Rs 117 crore. The judgment was a victory for Bengaluru MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who filed the PIL. The ink had barely dried on his triumph when the Supreme Court accepted his intervention petition in favour of the traditions surrounding Sabarimala and its deity, Lord Aiyappa. The debate has raged across the country, with intellectuals and feminist thinkers calling the supposed ban on women a mark of gender discrimination. Over a steaming cuppa, Rajeev Chandrashekhar tells Darshana Ramdev why he decided to step into the treacherous territory of women's entry into temples with its overtones of misogyny and gender inequality.
"It's a relevant debate to have generally,” Rajeev Chandrasekhar conceded, in chat with Deccan Chronicle. “Except, not in this case. None of the people fighting this case seem to know the significance of the deity or why women don’t enter the temple in the first place.” Every year, he said, lakhs of devotees, himself included, climb the mountain to the shrine of Lord Aiyappa, who, according to legend, is the son of Vishnu and Shiva.
“The Devaswom Board is supposed to be their voice, but it isn’t,” he said. “They respond to pressure rather than fact and tend to spin based on what they perceive is popular opinion.” Their claim that menstruating women are “impure” has quite rightly, agreed Chandrasekhar, sparked off the ire of women everywhere.
“Are we saying that the lakhs of men, from all classes of society and every walk of life, are chauvinists or discriminating against women?” he demanded. “They are not the voice of the devotees, so I stepped in.” Chandrasekhar has, in the course of his decade-long stint as a Rajya Sabha MP, established himself as what he calls the voice of what is “right.”
He said, “In this case, Devaswoms are supposed to represent the devotees, but they are nothing more than political cronies in Kerala. That’s ironic, in a state that has been ruled by the Left, which dismisses all notions of religion. “Still they speak on behalf of the political power of the day.”
Despite his perseverance, Chandrasekhar can’t seem to escape the general sense of cynicism surrounding the political class. There’s no escaping the question, either, but he accepts it with grace. “I get popularity, of course,” he said. “Still, I make more enemies than anything else. That doesn’t stop me from stepping up. What political benefit can I possibly get out of this case? Did I get any out of worshipping there for 21 years? There is a lot of cynicism surrounding politicians, even those who try to do the right thing. Here, the motive is simple: The facts placed before the SC should represent the devotees.”
Does he plan on taking this further and contest a Lok Sabha seat someday? “Why did you ask me that question,” he demanded, to my surprise - it seemed a fairly obvious thing to say. “I don’t,” he said. “I function in a different political space than MLAs dog.” Chandrasekhar doesn’t function among the grassroots where the real potential for mass popularity exists.
His achievements are marked mainly by his twitter following - “I don’t think I would be able to function like MLAs do,” he said. “I respect their space, but I don’t think I would fit into it. I have positioned myself in a place where I think I can make a difference.”
Chandrasekhar comes with experiences in the telecom world and as a successful entrepreneur - “I wouldn’t do any of it if I didn’t enjoy it,” he said. “I have had these slots in my life and each has taught me different lessons.” His approach defies the norms, but he’s a hard worker, nevertheless - his work day begins by 8.30 every morning. “My philosophy is simply not to waste time. People tend to think I do too many things at the same time, but to them, I say, ‘because I can’!” It’s more than just a cause, this is the fight for justice.